Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Extra grace requires:

Inevitably there will be a member in your group, that you think is draining or sucking the life out of your group by their self-centeredness.  After doing small groups for at least ten years I know I've felt paralyzed more than once by these freaky experiences....  Some people are dubbed "EGR" or people to whom the term applies: Extra grace required.  

This is the person who derails or dominates each meeting, at just the wrong time.  They are needy, whiny, they use the meeting as a platform to drag you into a weekly group-counseling session.  They have an answer to every question; one that somehow focuses on what they are facing that day/week.  They might be the Bible expert.  They might be the super-spiritual one. They might be more on fire than you, they're the holier than thou one...  

Who knows what behavior manifests; but you recognize the danger to the group as soon as this EGR acts out.  As soon as they, the EGR, begins to talk, people cringe.  Your spouse rolls their eyes...  Visitors look at their watches...  And you as the leader feel helpless to deal with this challenge....  So, I want to make a few points on what extra grace requires...  Notice the difference between the "ed" ending and the "s" :-)

1. The leader needs to be able to increase their own threshold of tolerance for other people's pain.  Sounds harsh?  Well, if you as a leader find this tension difficult to balance, then you aren't deep down a harsh person.  It should be natural to feel the need to minister to the EGR who is in obvious pain of some sort, but still, you want to keep the small group on track.  This is okay.  So, recognize the reason why this tension is happening for you, and use how you are experiencing that tension to allow you protect both those who need extra attention, and to continue to help the other folks grow.

2.  Leaders, recruit help from the more mature members of the group.  When your EGR has surfaced, you may not be prepared to address their needs in the 1st meeting.  You are not a "one-man/woman-show"  as the leader.  During the following week ask for help, look for someone who can partner with you to help you keep the pace of your meeting flowing.  A simple question from another member that returns people back to the lesson/curriculum can help.  Or, if it is appropriate, have a mature member ready to offer their help at the right moment to talk privately in another room with your EGR so the meeting can continue.  Obviously this needs to be handled carefully and thoughtfully.  If your EGR is in pain, for example, from past abuses from the opposite sex, it is a no brainier on the sensitivity of how/who you ask for help.

3. Handle this next one with care...  Take some time during your fellowship-time to let the EGR know you truly do value them.  Sometimes EGRs simply need to be validated more often.  Don't we all need this at one level or another?  You can also communicate that their questions or side-bar comments are interesting or insightful.  In the end though, you do not want to feed the very issue you are trying to fix.  If you establish a legitimate rapport that communicates you value and care for your EGR, you've provided the platform that will help you when you need to continue facilitating the meeting, and not allow the EGR to hijack the group.  When you establish a healthier relationship with your EGR, one that communicates mutual respect, you'll feel better and they will feel better when you respond to their distraction with a simple "I hear you, but let's postpone that idea for now and stay focused..." or some similar catch-phrase you plan to use to communicate love & care but determination to be conscientious of the entire group.

4. Resources.... Read up on the topic; I promise it isn't going away.  Pretty much every decent book on smallgroups I've read has at least one paragraph filled with advice on how to care for your EGR.  Google the topic and skim a few articles.

5. Pray for your EGR.  They need your prayers and care.  

6.  Don't be Dr. Phil.  You can't diagnose their deep problems in front of an audience.  When the EGR begins gushing some irrational emotional pain, or hijacks the group with their expertise in the topic....  the group will not benefit from you becoming the expert to fix the EGR on the spot...

Keep this in mind:  The EGR probably doesn't know they are problematic.  They want to be part of the community too.  They have real needs that we are called to minister to as Christians. II Cor 1:3-5 (ESV) reminds us, " Blessed be the  God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort,  who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ's sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too."   

In the end, even as we minister to the EGR, the entire group needs to feel safe and healthy too.  We can't sacrifice the the one for the other.  So, as you walk the tightrope, with prayer and assistance from others, care for your EGR, but don't become an enabler and don't allow them to sabotage the group.

No comments: